18 October 2010

China and Africa - pay attention to this relationship

From the BBC:
It is not much to look at - a small pitted brass coin with a square hole in the centre - but this relatively innocuous piece of metal is revolutionising our understanding of early East African history, and recasting China's more contemporary role in the region.

A joint team of Kenyan and Chinese archaeologists found the 15th Century Chinese coin in Mambrui - a tiny, nondescript village just north of Malindi on Kenya's north coast.

In barely distinguishable relief, the team leader Professor Qin Dashu from Peking University's archaeology department, read out the inscription: "Yongle Tongbao" - the name of the reign that minted the coin some time between 1403 and 1424.

"These coins were carried only by envoys of the emperor, Chengzu," Prof Qin said. 
The coin was almost certainly brought to East Africa by one of the treasure fleets led by Zheng He (about whom some other time...)
"We're discovering that the Chinese had a very different approach from the Europeans to East Africa," said Herman Kiriama, the lead archaeologist from the National Museums of Kenya.

"Because they came with gifts from the emperor, it shows they saw us as equals. It shows that Kenya was already a dynamic trading power with strong links to the outside world long before the Portuguese arrived," he said.

And that is profoundly influencing the way Kenya is thinking about its current ties to the East. It implies that China has a much older trade relationship with the region than Europe, and that Beijing's very modern drive to open up trade with Africa may in fact be part of a far deeper tradition than anyone suspected.
This stuck a chord with me because it was only yesterday that I bookmarked this story at The Daily Nation about how the Chinese are providing free health care to Africans via a floating hospital.
Medical staff aboard the Chinese Navy hospital ship Peace Ark have been treating an average of 700 patients a day since last Thursday.

The crew, which leaves the port of Mombasa tomorrow, has been doing an average of six operations, 80 physical examinations, 110 dental check-ups, 35 CT scans, 200 DR examinations, 240 ultra sound cases and 170 heart check-ups per day.
The medical team also visited the Ziwani School for the deaf, Tom Mboya School for Cerebral Palsy, the Mji wa Salama Children’s home and did physical examination on 243 children, 30 of whom were taken to the ship for further treatment.

The Peace Ark hospital has 428 medical and support staff. They include neurologists, surgeons, radiologists, dermatologists, biomedical engineers and psychologists.
Other facilities are a rescue helicopter, 32 medical departments including Chinese herbal medicine, 300 hospital beds and a wide range of diagnostic medical equipment.

... the gesture was a clear sign of the long friendship between Kenya and the people of China.  “The relationship has been bolstered by knowledge and cultural exchange through programmes such as the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi and transfer of technology, equipment, modern highways, state-of-the art hospitals, and a host of infrastructural edifices scattered all over Kenya...
These two articles reinforce the headline several years ago in the London Evening Standard: "How China's taking over Africa, and why the West should be VERY worried."
In the greatest movement of people the world has ever seen, China is secretly working to turn the entire continent into a new colony.

Reminiscent of the West's imperial push in the 18th and 19th centuries - but on a much more dramatic, determined scale - China's rulers believe Africa can become a 'satellite' state, solving its own problems of over-population and shortage of natural resources at a stroke.

With little fanfare, a staggering 750,000 Chinese have settled in Africa over the past decade. More are on the way.
Across Africa, the red flag of China is flying. Lucrative deals are being struck to buy its commodities - oil, platinum, gold and minerals. New embassies and air routes are opening up. The continent's new Chinese elite can be seen everywhere, shopping at their own expensive boutiques, driving Mercedes and BMW limousines, sending their children to exclusive private schools.

The pot-holed roads are cluttered with Chinese buses, taking people to markets filled with cheap Chinese goods. More than a thousand miles of new Chinese railroads are crisscrossing the continent, carrying billions of tons of illegally-logged timber, diamonds and gold.

All over this great continent, the Chinese presence is swelling into a flood. Angola has its own 'Chinatown', as do great African cities such as Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

Exclusive, gated compounds, serving only Chinese food, and where no blacks are allowed, are being built all over the continent. 'African cloths' sold in markets on the continent are now almost always imported, bearing the legend: 'Made in China'.

From Nigeria in the north, to Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Angola in the west, across Chad and Sudan in the east, and south through Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, China has seized a vice-like grip on a continent which officials have decided is crucial to the superpower's long-term survival
Much more at the link.


  1. Great post. Find this topic very interesting myself, from past to present. Seen a good documentary a few years ago, was about a huge Chinese fleet of ships which sailed to Africa. Making a lot of stops along the way and everywhere they stopped, they gave gifts on behalf of the Emperor. Took them many years to accomplish this journey. If I find the documentary I'll let ye know. As for the current events of today. There's a heck of a lot going on, fast. The first I heard of China seeking African resources was in another documentary 'The Devil Came on Horseback'. Well worth a watch for many other reasons.

  2. So, the Chinese 'take-over' of Africa is only really a problem when the citizens of these African countries have such fragile or non-existence property rights.

    My first question about Chinese people moving to Africa was 'so what?'. If African's have secure property rights then they can take advantage of this and trade with Chinese to their benefit! Chinese people moving to African countries, bringing cheap Chinese goods, securing natural resource contracts, building roads, buying African goods... score! Right?

    Well only if Africans can take advantage of this. Corrupt Governments and lack of property rights is the big issue - not the fact that Chinese are 'recolonising' Africa.

    IMO ;)

    Also, finding 'ancient' Chinese coins in Africa is awesome for the history buff in me :)

  3. Can't seem to find reference to the Zheng He documentary anywhere unfortunately, would like to watch it again myself. Note I'm not talking about anything to do with Gavin Menzies, his theories seem dodgy

  4. Is it possible that this rather doubtful find was faked in order to"...profoundly influence the way Kenya is thinking about its current ties to the East. It implies that China has a much older trade relationship with the region than Europe, and that Beijing's very modern drive to open up trade with Africa may in fact be part of a far deeper tradition than anyone suspected..."?

  5. No Sue, it actually happened http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zheng_He

  6. Sue, there is extensive archaeologic and literary documentation of the voyages to Zheng He around the Indian Ocean and to Africa.

    Gavin Menzies' book 1421 opens with lots of interesting information about the treasure fleets. It's only the part where he claims they might have reached North America that is controversial.

    I believe there is also some ceramic and shipwreck evidence to indicate that Zheng He's fleets reached Australia.

  7. Stephen, for video resources on Zheng He, just start at YouTube:


  8. What a wonderful boon to both China and Africa! Both countries benefit immensely. It seems to me that this could raise the African standard of living to at least that of China, and, probably the combined benefit will help both countries. The only people who need to be afraid are the greedy, warlord, dictators of Africa who have been holding their countries back for so many decades now.


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